Surprised by Hope: An Interpretation of Matthew 24, Part 3 (The Eschaton)

Now, at this point it seems probable that Jesus begins to answer the second question — what will be the signs of the end? Some argue that he is still speaking of the fall of Jerusalem, but Jesus seems pretty clear on when that will happen, whereas he insists that no one knows when “that day” will be —

36 “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

“That day” is often used by the prophets to refer to the Eschaton –

(Isa 52:6-7)  Therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that it is I who foretold it. Yes, it is I.” 7 How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

(Jer 30:7-8)  How awful that day will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it. 8 “‘ In that day,’ declares the LORD Almighty, ‘I will break the yoke off their necks and will tear off their bonds; no longer will foreigners enslave them.

And while the elect will see the armies of Rome approaching, they’ll have no idea when that day is to come –

38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

Therefore, always be ready –

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Be wise and not foolish — act as though today is that day –

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards.

And those who aren’t ready will be punished severely –

50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Finally, I think this conclusion is reinforced by Jesus’s testimony in this trial –

(Mat 26:60-64)  But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward 61 and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”

62 Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”

63 But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

64 “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

The questioners insisted that Jesus had promised to tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days. He was, of course, speaking of his own crucifixion and resurrection. However, in typical irony, Jesus declares that he will return to tear down the temple.

“You will see” in v 64 is quite literal — some of his listeners will be alive to see his return when he brings to a permanent end the sacrificial system, unambiguously announcing God’s curse and God’s blessing.

Plainly, we have to conclude that those who try to predict the Eschaton haven’t read Matthew 24. Nothing could be plainer than the fact that we’ll be surprised when it happens. But Jesus gave the Christians in Jerusalem enough information so that they really did escape the coming destruction.

Our escape from the fires of the Eschaton will be quite different, of course. It will be by God’s grace, not by knowing when to flee! Indeed, for the church, there is nothing to fear and everything to anticipate and even pray for.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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